Movie review: Tarantino, crew create a cool classic with 'Inglourious Basterds'

Brad Pitt plays a Maynardville, Tenn., moonshiner who leads a band of Jewish-American soldiers on a campaign of terror against Nazis in France in 'Inglourious Basterds.'

Brad Pitt plays a Maynardville, Tenn., moonshiner who leads a band of Jewish-American soldiers on a campaign of terror against Nazis in France in 'Inglourious Basterds.'

Brad Pitt plays a Maynardville, Tenn., moonshiner who leads a band of Jewish-American soldiers on a campaign of terror against Nazis in France in 'Inglourious Basterds.'

Brad Pitt plays a Maynardville, Tenn., moonshiner who leads a band of Jewish-American soldiers on a campaign of terror against Nazis in France in 'Inglourious Basterds.'

"Inglourious Basterds" begins in German-occupied France, where Shosanna Dreyfus witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of Nazi Colonel Hans Landa. Shosanna narrowly ...

Rating: R for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality

Length: 152 minutes

Released: August 21, 2009 Nationwide

Cast: Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Daniel Brühl

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

More info and showtimes »

The fanboy and the adult sides of Quentin Tarantino come together in his new epic, “Inglourious Basterds.”

A mash-up of movie tributes, graphic-novel-type revenge fantasies, revisionist fairy tales and sobering realities, Tarantino’s long-gestating World War II flick may not be his most transcendent work, but it’s one of his most satisfying. It has the uber-violence and the inventive dialogue that his fans crave, yet the carnage is applied judiciously, and the verbiage is of a more poetic than pugilistic bent. And while its 150-minute running time looms ominously at the outset, the film hits visceral and emotional markers so frequently that the end seems no more than a few heartbeats from the beginning.

Although the title plays off a 1978 Bo Svenson-Fred Williamson film, “The Inglorious Bastards,” the initial inspiration actually seems to be “The Dirty Dozen.” However, writer-director Tarantino goes well beyond that genre classic.

The signal that this is more than a men-on-a-mission action flick comes in the film’s first “chapter,” set in 1941 in Nazi-occupied France. In a scene that cements, once and for all, Tarantino’s credentials as an artist and not just a pop-culture scavenger, Nazi Col. Hans Landa interrogates dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (respectively Christoph Waltz and Denis Menochet, both fantastic) about Jewish neighbors Landa presumes to be in hiding. Suspense bordering on agony mounts for LaPadite and the audience, culminating with a jolt that turns out to be a motif.

Tarantino next introduces U.S. Army Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who’s been chosen to lead a band of Jewish-American soldiers on a campaign of terror against the Nazis in France. Aldo, a jutting-jawed moonshiner from Maynardville, Tenn., who claims to be a descendant of mountain man Jim Bridger (think tall tales), makes a deal with his men. He expects each of them to bring him 100 Nazi scalps by the end of their tenure (think real scalps). “Jew Hunter” Landa and “Aldo the Apache” are on a collision course that ultimately involves the young owner of a Paris cinema (Melanie Laurent), a German movie star (Diane Kruger), a British film critic (Michael Fassbender), a German war hero (Daniel Bruhl), Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), Adolf Hitler (Martin Wuttke) and a stockpile of highly flammable 35mm nitrate film. What transpires is not historically accurate, but it is painstakingly faithful to its own universe and therefore feels intellectually intriguing, not exploitative.

While Waltz gives the standout performance as the smoothly evil Landa, Pitt’s three-dimensional hillbilly is no slouch. Pitt makes Aldo’s offbeat humor, simplicity and sickness work, and with a believable accent. The cast, which also includes director Eli Roth as a brutal Nazi killer and a heavily disguised Mike Myers, is first-rate.

Beautifully designed, photographed and edited, “Inglourious Basterds” has the look of a timeless classic, but it is inarguably a Tarantino film. It has his attitude, his ambition, his knack for shrewd song choices. Tarantino goes legit without losing his coolness.

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